For the first time in its annual report for Turkey, the European Commission has referred to the country as “an occupying power” in Syria.
“The Turkish authorities supported activities conducted by the Syrian Interim Government to bring back stability and create administrative structures on the ground. Despite efforts being made, as an occupying power Turkey needs to continue to address the human rights issue. Turkey cooperated with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” the European Commission's 2021 report read, which was released on Oct. 19.
The European Commission has been publishing annual reports evaluating the progress achieved by the candidate countries with respect to the Copenhagen criteria since 1998. These reports were called ‘‘Progress Report’’ until 2016, and have been called ‘‘Country Report’’ afterwards.
The Commission's report touched upon Turkey's cross-border operations into Syria, saying that the country's “increasingly assertive foreign policy continued to collide with EU priorities” in 2021.
Drawing attention to reports of human rights abuses by Turkish-backed groups in Syria, the report read: “Turkey developed housing and infrastructure in the regions it controlled, linking them to those of Turkey; it also provided basic services to the local population. However, the human rights situation in northern Syria under the control of Turkish forces and Turkey-affiliated armed groups remained a matter of concern.”
Since 2016, Ankara has launched three operations across its border into northern Syria dubbed respectively Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018), and Peace Spring (2019).
The United Nations war crimes investigators previously warned Turkey to rein in Syrian rebels it supports in northern Syria who may have carried out kidnappings, torture and looting of civilian property.
The investigators also said that transfers of Syrian nationals detained by the opposition Syrian National Army to Turkish territory for prosecution may amount to the war crime of unlawful deportation.